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Boy, interrupted…

As a parent, the headline in todays Sun-Herald is the personification of every nightmare I’ve ever had:

‘I promise that we’re going to have a really good time’ Tom Kelly’s soothing words to his anxious girlfriend

For those who are unaware of this story, Tom Kelly was an 18 year old boy who was killed in a senseless, unprovoked attack in our city last weekend. He suffered fatal injuries after being kinghit by a person as yet unknown while walking down the street with his girlfriend in Sydney’s Kings Cross. It’s a part of the city that is a hot spot for clubs, late-night entertainment and all the trouble that goes along with it, alcohol, drugs, prostitutes, you name it. A real magnet for the young and trying-to-be-young.

His father says he’d asked Tom not to go into the Cross “but you can’t tell an 18 year old what to do.” And he’s right. You can’t. And even if you do, invariably they won’t listen because they can’t or won’t entertain the possibility of something going wrong.

I’ve had similar conversations with my eldest son over the years. Asking those kinds of questions. Ignoring the rolling of the eyes, humouring smiles and imploring requests for me to ‘Relax, Mum’. Because I can’t. When you love them, you have to keep on asking, don’t you? Where are you going? How are you getting home? Do you want me to pick you up? Please be careful. Let me know if you’re staying at your mate’s house so I don’t worry. My eldest is now 23 and I still ask. The only difference now is he finally understands why.

It’s started already with my 14 year old. If I had a dollar for every time he’s said ‘OMG, relax, Mum, nothing’s going to happen’, I reckon I’d be rich. He wants more freedom like his older brother did and I’m trying to put the brakes on. Slow him down. Give him a chance to grow up first. It doesn’t help that he looks older than his years would indicate. His 14-year-old athlete’s body has no business looking as ripped as it does but when you consider how much sport and physical activity he does, it’s not surprising.

Credit:  Radius Image/Alchemy

The Tom Kelly story before he was killed is similar to the path many young boys have travelled. A few difficult years at high school. Problems with drugs/alcohol/gambling. Then turning it all around with a new job/another chance/fresh start. Maybe a new set of friends, a first girlfriend or mentor in their lives and suddenly they can see a future with buckets of potential. Because often that’s how it pans out. Boys are a ‘life-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ kind of  ride. Natural risk-takers. Drawn to the danger and the thrill of the chase. It’s an instinct built into their DNA. Show a boy a physical challenge and I’ll show you a kid who dreams of being the fastest or the best. Pushing his limits to the extreme. Seeing how far he can go. Taking a chance to make it big.

And I want that for my boys. I want them to live life unafraid. To feel secure enough in their own minds to give it their best shot. To acknowledge they’ll make mistakes as they learn but realise it’s still okay. To be confident enough to take a chance when others won’t. To be strong and independent yet considerate of all others.

But here’s the grey area – all those things are at odds with what a parent thinks when they go out at night. You want all that ‘guts and glory’ stuff to stay hidden in the background. You don’t want them to take unnecessary risks. Stand out in a crowd. You just want them to get home safe.

I wish there was a simple answer to all this but I don’t think there is one. All I know is that the story of Tom Kelly has hit a real nerve in our community. We are shocked and appalled that such an horrific thing could happen. When I first read about it, my immediate thoughts were ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’. My heart just broke for his devastated parents who must feel like they’re living through a nightmare with no end. What happened to Tom Kelly could have easily happened to any one of our young men, through no fault of their own, simply by being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The fact that it happened at all is something we, as a society, should be very concerned about.

Do you have sons? How do you deal with them wanting to go out into areas that aren’t considered safe?

6 responses to “Boy, interrupted…”

  1. KPB Avatar

    My mum once said she never worried about my brother when he was at school, it was on leaving it that the sleepless nights truly began. As is so often the case, it is the good kids, the ones just out for a look see, to dip their toe in the big pond who get slammed. I am so so sad for this family. Can you imagine the scale of their grief?

  2. What Sarah Did Next Avatar

    I watched the interview with Tom's parents on 60 Minutes this evening and I couldn't help the tears. So incredibly heartbreaking. I can't imagine how all-encompassing their grief must be. It's so unfair, so senseless.

    I hope they catch the bastard who did this and SOON.

  3. Janine Fitzpatrick Avatar

    It's just such a tragedy, I cried my way through 60 minutes last night too. No matter how much you try to protect them at some point you have to let go, and then to have such a senseless act of violence take away your child must be so harrowing.

  4. What Sarah Did Next Avatar

    What a waste of an innocent life. And he was just starting to get it all together. I only found out today that my neighbour's son knows the family; apparently he's friends with Tom's younger brother (they know each other through school). Everyone is so heartbroken. 🙁

  5. The Kids Are All Right Avatar

    I think I'd find it very hard to be the parent of a teenage boy. I remember my own brother as a teen, big and strong but fun-loving and a risk-taker. Thank god my mum didn't know the half of it. What Kim said is so true, and I've been thinking about that lately. When they are really off the leash and they don't even need to call home… it's even more worrying than high school years. Thankfully bad things don't happen very often.

  6. What Sarah Did Next Avatar

    Teenage boys are a law unto themselves at times! But we're navigating it as best we can so far in this house. Not to say that it's been plain sailing the whole way, of course!

    As much as you worry (and there's really nothing you can do about that), as a parent you have to let them make their own way in the world sooner or later.

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About Me

Hi, I’m Sarah!

Former wild-child of the 80’s, classic rock fan and loyal friend to a particularly awesome group of people. Forever planning to write more. Fervently wishes she lived at the beach. Loves the mighty All Blacks. Rather partial to a cheeky glass of red.

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